Saturday, 28 May 2011

Pilots...don't get caught out of the cloud !

The cloud is the hottest thing in computing...and it makes perfect sense: outsource the messy business of hardware and network infrastructure (which is a specialization most of us are not very good at), so we can focus on developing and consuming software-based services. The recent explosion in cloud services has come about with the convergence of virtualization technology (whereby many different servers at the software level can cleverly share the same hardware without getting tangled up) and  multi-core processors (where multiple CPU cores -- which do the heavy-lifting inside a computer -- can share the same physical ancillary services such as memory, network connectivity, storage, power supplies, cooling fans, rack-space, etc).  With the result, we now have, in essence, the commoditization of computing infrastructure: it no longer really matters where the servers sit.  From our perspective as developers and consumers of services, the computers are somewhere out there in the clouds, accessible via the URL (the detail is of course a bit more complex, but the concept is essentially that simple).

For pilots, like anyone else, we can expect the cloud to have an ever-increasing impact on our lives in terms of the rapid expansion of cloud-based services. For example, an obvious and natural "fit" for a cloud-based pilot app is the virtual (web-based) logbook. As such there is a proliferation of offerings in this area.

As a "pet project" (during the long winter months here in the UK), I decided to embrace the cloud by creating iNavCalc (and iMetBrief), web- and email-based apps for VFR pre-flight planning. On the principles that (i) humans shouldn't do what computers can do better; and (ii) you should never do twice what you can teach a computer to do once, I have outsourced to the cloud the considerable and repetitive grunt-work of pre-flight VFR nav planning. I find that these apps save me hours compared with the old way of doing things. I use them every time I fly. It now takes me seconds or minutes rather than hours to pre-plan a flight. Because I find them so handy, I thought other pilots would, too. So, I've recently launched them as a free service for the global flying community. The apps are platform-independent: all you require is a smartphone/tablet/desktop that supports email, web-browsing, and can display PDF files. I'll talk more about the details in later postings. For now, give them a go (they are free)... and do please let me know what you think.

Fly Meister